On October 30, 2019, police reportedly fired tear gas to disperse students during a general assembly at Makerere University.
The general assembly was due to discuss a June 2018 decision by Makerere’s university council to approve a plan to increase tuition by fifteen percent each year over the course of five years. By the end of the five years, students’ tuition will have increased seventy-five percent. Students have decried the tuition increase as excessive. Some female students at Makerere have commented that they have had to “sell their bodies” in order to afford tuition.
Protests over the tuition increases began on October 22, 2019, when a group of protesters, mostly female students, were arrested by Ugandan security forces for attempting to deliver a petition to the office of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (see report). Military personnel and police violently responded to subsequent protests on October 23 (see report) and 24 (see report).
On October 29, the university council reportedly agreed, after meeting with students, to make some concessions, but refused to drop the fifteen percent tuition fee increases for the next three years. The next day, students gathered on campus for a general assembly at which the university’s Guild President, Julius Kateregga, was due to speak about the university council’s decision. Kateregga, however, did not appear at the general assembly, but was reportedly detained moments earlier following an appearance on television at an off-campus studio. (It is unclear who detained Kateregga.) News of Kateregga’s detention was reportedly announced at the assembly, prompting a protest by students.
Police on the scene reportedly fired tear gas to disperse the students. As of this report, authorities have not disclosed Kateregga’s whereabouts or the grounds for his arrest.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force and detentions to restrict student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uganda is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not violate institutional autonomy, and are not undertaken to restrict nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.